Alasdair Roberts' tendency to explore nuanced historical arcana in his music is blessedly paired with an ability to do so compactly in song - turning, say, a 1000-year-old Irish text on the mysteries of creation and apocalypse, or the peregrinatory journal of a medieval English mystic, into something with which we can all sing along. With his latest single "A Keen", Ali marks the span of a life through the ritual use of song and utterance, from cradle croon to wooing charm to funerary wail. To accompany the release of the single, Songlines has premiered a video of Alasdair performing "A Keen" at the piano, with just him and the keys in a northern room. It's every bit as elegant and poignant as the fuller-bodied studio version of the song, not to mention the subject of the song itself.
Alasdair Roberts on "A Keen", August 2019:
"Tá mé goite chomh fada ansin is tá mé in ann... mar léifidh tú scéal ar 'chuile mháthair, mar nach mbeidh 'chuile mháthair mar sin lena mac féin? ('I've gone as far as I can... for you know it's the story of every mother, for wouldn't every mother be like that with her own son?') - Máire a' Ghabha of Aird Thoir, discussing the song 'Caoineadh na Páise' ('Lament of the Passion'), 1975.
In common with all humanity, I have experienced the pain of grief at the loss of a loved one. However, 'A Keen' represents, in part, an attempt to write about an almost unimaginably painful form of that emotion, a form which I have hitherto been fortunate enough not to have known - the grief of a parent upon the early death of a child. It's something which has marked the lives of several people I have known in one way or another; therefore, in sympathy with these people, I was moved to explore the subject in song form (song being my customary medium of artistic expression and metaphysical inquiry). But how, bearing in mind my merciful lack of that experience, can I expect to write in a dignified and respectful (not to mention convincing) way on such a theme? Perhaps the answer must be that, until such an experience of bereavement affects me directly and personally (and by the mercy of Him who orders the Heavens may it never be so!), I cannot; nevertheless 'A Keen' stands as a humble and perhaps vainglorious attempt to do just that.
Although ever-present, Death is but one part of existence, and 'A Keen' charts the course of an all-too-brief life from cradle to grave, marked throughout by the ritual use of song (or of utterance more broadly). So the caoine, the wordless funerary wail, features as but one part in the totality of a life also marked by songs of lulling (the cradle-croon, tàladh) and wooing (the aubade). This seems a kind of iteration of the ancient Celtic notion of the 'three noble strains' of music - geantraí, suantraí and goltraí (the strains of joy, soothing and sorrow respectively); just as an individual life will feature all three, so a society will reflect them all in the breadth and depth of its musical culture. Gentle reader: may your own lives resound with geantraí and suantraí, and when the doleful sounds of goltraí are heard - as they inevitably must be - may they be both brief and healing!"
Watch Alasdair's moving performance of "A Keen" above and grab your copy of A Fiery Margin on its Friday September 13th release date!
10/4/19 KROCH Stockholm Sweden^
10/17/19 The Glad Cafe Glasgow United Kingdom*
10/18/19 Futtle Bowhouse, St. Monans United Kingdom^
10/19/19 Sneaky Pete's Edinburgh United Kingdom*
10/20/19 Gosforth Civic Theatre Newcastle-Upon-Tyne United Kingdom*
10/21/19 The Talleyrand Manchester United Kingdom*
10/22/19 The Golden Lion Todmorden United Kingdom*
10/23/19 Colston Hall Bristol United Kingdom*
10/24/19 St. John on Bethnal Green London United Kingdom*
10/25/19 The Rose Hill Brighton United Kingdom^
10/26/19 The HUBS Sheffield United Kingdom^
10/27/19 High Forest Community Centre Sinderhope United Kingdom^
*The Fiery Margin Tour: Alasdair Roberts and Friends (Quartet with Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh, Alex Neilson and Stevie Jones)